Two Air Jordan flagship models released within the same year. Strange…very strange…
Traction – While it’s nowhere near as bad as the XXX’s traction, it’s still pretty inconsistent. The cleaner the floor the better (obviously), but some floors with dust offered solid traction while others did not. The only explanation I can think of is that the rubber compound works better with certain court finish rather than certain conditions. Does your court offer the finish that is compatible with the outsole? Unfortunately, there’s only one way to find out…and $185 is a bit pricey for such an experiment.
Cushion – We haven’t had full length Zoom Air on the flagship Air Jordan since the 2010, and I wish I could say that this is the best implementation of the cushion since the 18. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
It’s unlocked and features the Flight Speed setup, but it’s still contained. If you wanted to experience a true unlocked full length Zoom setup then the KD 9 is where you’ll find it. The Air Jordan XXXI, while good, isn’t as good as the KD 9 is. Impact protection, court feel, responsiveness, it’s all there in the XXXI. The thing I wasn’t a fan of is how unstable it feels. You’ll eventually get used to the wobbly feeling the shoes offer, but it’s not something I’d prefer. Jordan Brand perfected the forefoot unlocked Zoom setup with the XX9 and XXX, but there is some room for improvement with the Air Jordan XXXI. If they can make this setup feel as stable as past models with full length Zoom then the setup will quickly become a favorite from those that try it. However, until then there are slightly better options out there that offer a more stable platform to work with.
Materials – These feel like the true successor to the XX9. I’m not sure what went wrong and how we ended up with the XXX, but this is performance woven done right. The materials on the XXXI are easily its best attribute, and if you try them out for yourself I think you’d agree. Having the weave up front feels amazing and the break-in process is nonexistent. Then there is the transition from the weave to the synthetic leather which feels amazing as well. The snug, contained-feeling the rear section brings, while still offering unrestricted awesomeness up front, reminds me of a favorite shoe of mine…the J Crossover 2. These have a slightly tighter forefoot knit than those though, so the knit won’t stretch in the same fashion.
If you enjoy slightly more rigid materials in the back with less restrictive materials in the front then these should cover your needs perfectly.
Fit – The Air Jordan XXXI fits true to size but it’s a bit wide. Great for wide footers, not the best for someone that really enjoyed the one-to-one fit of the XX9 Low. The toe box is a bit squared, which is another trait that it shares with the Air Jordan 18. Some lace adjustments will be needed during your first couple of games to ensure you’re getting the best and most secure fit, but once you’ve found it there will still be a bit of room.
While the forefoot isn’t a one size fits all situation, the heel definitely is. I loved the heel lockdown and everything that went into making it as good as it is. The inner boot, anatomical pillows, and synthetic leather wrapping around your ankle — it all works very well together. You’ll also be able to fit a brace in there if you happen to wear one.
Support – The support had potential to be great, but falls short. Having a slightly wider toe box is the first culprit. While you’ll be able to get them as snug as possible with some adjustments, it won’t fit as securely to everyone’s foot. Wide footers will likely be just fine in this area, but if you have a normal or narrow foot then it might leave a lot to be desired.
The second issue is the full length unlocked Zoom Air. Yes, you get used to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re wobbling at the foundation of the shoe…and if your foundation is wobbly then your lateral support will suffer. It can also throw off your balance as it’s far from a natural ride. The more stable the base the better off you’ll be.
Everything else worked well in the Air Jordan XXXI. Heel lockdown and fit was flawless. Torsional support is there from the FlightSpeed plate. They almost had it, but fell just short.
Overall – While Jordan Brand tried to sell you on the XXXI being a reboot of the signature line, it’s actually just another Retro. JB might’ve thrown a Swoosh and Wings logo onto the shoe, but other than that the latest shoe has nothing to do with the Air Jordan 1. Rather, it’s a modern take on the Air Jordan 18. They both fit the same, have similar traction, similar cushion…and they even share the same designer.
Each piece of the shoe is great. Put them together and it’s not a perfect match. The biggest issue to tackle is how to get full length unlocked Zoom to be more stable underfoot. Get that part down and the rest is easy because Jordan Brand has already perfected performance woven materials.
Even if the Air Jordan XXXI isn’t perfect for me, I know they’ll be perfect for wide footers. It’s very difficult to find a shoe that’ll accommodate a wide foot nowadays. This is one, and they don’t skimp on any tech. While the XXX was a major disappointment for being a copy of the XX9, just nowhere near as good, you can’t be mad at the Jordan XXXI. JB tried a few new things, sort of failed a bit, but not to the point where they can’t fine tune what’s here to make a great performer next time around. Keep the materials, fine tune the cushion, use traction that works anywhere and you’ll have a shoe worthy of the $185 price tag.